BEREA: The Browns appeared to be in danger of hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers with a depleted secondary, but some reinforcements returned in time and are confident they’re ready for live action.
Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Buster Skrine said Friday they will play against the Steelers. Both of them are listed as probable on the injury report.
Haden practiced the past three days after sitting out the Browns’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys with an injured oblique muscle. Skrine practiced the past two days after suffering a concussion Sunday late in the fourth quarter.
“It allows us to flirt around with the idea of putting pressure against the Steelers because we know we got guys on the back end that are going to hold up and compete their tails off,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Just having Joe is going to be huge. It’s just a sense of confidence that you have when you look over and you see [him] over there.”
Haden pulled an oblique Nov. 14 during practice. He tried to warm up Sunday at Cowboys Stadium but could tell he wasn’t quite ready to play when he reached for a ball and felt pain. Haden, though, said his health is now at 90 percent.
“It’s good enough,” said Haden, who has watched the Browns go 0-5 this season when he’s not in the lineup. “I can do everything.”
Skrine suffered his first documented concussion and was briefly knocked unconscious when he had a helmet-to-helmet collision with Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who moved backward into Skrine after being blasted by strong safety T.J. Ward with 57 seconds left in regulation. Ward received a 15-yard, unnecessary-roughness penalty and a $25,000 fine, which he’s appealing.
“I told [Ward] no more friendly fire,” Skrine said. … “When you get hit, you kind of just black out and then you wake up. So it’s definitely a different feeling, and hopefully I don’t have any more concussions.”
Skrine said he passed all of his concussion tests and he’s no longer experiencing symptoms. He’ll primarily cover slot receiver Emmanuel Sanders while Haden and fellow corner Sheldon Brown start on the outside.
Haden and Skrine hope to help the secondary rebound after it was penalized seven times against the Cowboys.
“We were being really aggressive last game and it cost us,” Skrine said. “Some of [the calls] I think are questionable, but we were being aggressive. Obviously with those refs, you can’t be as aggressive as you wanted to be. So you’ve just got to feel the refs out throughout the game.”
On Friday, the Steelers (6-4) officially ruled out starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs) and backup Byron Leftwich (ribs). Still, the Browns (2-8) insist they can’t afford to underestimate third-string quarterback Charlie Batch, who will turn 38 on Dec. 5.
“This Steelers team is good,” Skrine said. “Ben and Leftwich are both out, but their offense is still good. And as everybody knows, they have a really good defense, too. We know we’re going to have to battle it out. It’s probably going to be [close till the] end.”
The Steelers also ruled out Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) and listed fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) as questionable. They could resort to using Plaxico Burress, 35, whom they signed this week even though he has been out of work since last season.
“This team, no matter who they got, are a veteran team, a team that’s won big games,” Haden said. “You can never, ever stop playing against them.”
As rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden explained the mechanics he must correct to avoid throwing passes too high, he went off on a tangent about the offense running routes against the Cowboys that it didn’t practice.
“There’s a couple of routes we ran on Sunday for the first time all week, and that’s not fair to me,” Weeden said. “It’s not fair to the receivers. It’s not fair to any of us … when you’re getting thrown in the fire and the bullets are flying.”
Coach Pat Shurmur did not concur with Weeden’s claim.
“I disagree with some of that because I do think that we make an effort of the ones we’re going to call we practice,” Shurmur said. “A lot of the plays that we practice, we’ve been running all year and you run them in training camp. It’s nearly impossible with the amount of time and then the length of the season to practice every single thing multiple times.”
Weeden acknowledged time is a factor.
“[There are] a limited amount of reps,” he said. “We can’t be out there for three hours. You can’t run every single route and make every throw. It’s tough. That’s why I try to do it after practice.”
Weeden and several receivers worked on routes after practice this week, including on Friday.
More playing time?
Backup running back Montario Hardesty is hoping to become more involved in the game plan after rushing for 23 yards on four carries (5.8 average) against the Cowboys. He believes he offers a good complement to starting running back Trent Richardson.
“I think we can have a great one-two punch,” Hardesty said. “We’ve just gotta continue to get better. I think we have two different styles of running, how Trent hits it and how I hit and how I see the holes compared to him. It’s a good little change up for us, so hopefully I’ll get a few more carries.
“It’s getting cold. This is the time of year when you need guys. It’s why we went out and got a guy like Trent Richardson and why you need more than one back in the AFC North when it’s getting cold and you’re gonna start pounding the ball. We’ll see. Hopefully that happens.”
Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said he’d aim to work Hardesty into the game.
“We’ll look to spot him in there,” Childress said. “It’s not a deal where I would tell you, ‘Hey, he’s definitely going to have the third series of the game.’ I don’t think we’re to that position yet.”
Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has played sparingly in the past two games since returning from an injured hamstring that sidelined him for five games. On Sunday, he received 23 percent of the offensive snaps. On Nov. 4 in the Browns’ 25-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he received 27 percent of the snaps and limped off the field late in the fourth quarter.
However, Childress said he wants to use Massaquoi more against the Steelers.
“I’m excited and I’m going to try to turn this thing loose,” Massaquoi said. “So whatever workload I’m given, I’m going to handle it and I’m going to maximize it and I’m going to go out there and make all the plays that I can.
“I feel good. It’s just a matter of maintaining it and making sure it’s strong and just being smart to warm up, so that when I go out there, nothing happens. But as far as being comfortable to run any route, I’m fine.”
Giveaway still on
The Browns, in conjunction with Ticketmaster, still plan to give away white inflatable flags featuring the team’s helmet logo before the game Sunday. The flags have been widely criticized because, well, white flags symbolize surrender, and the Steelers are coming to town having won 16 of their past 17 meetings against the Browns.
“I’m not a fan of the white flags,” said Jackson, one of the team’s captains. “That’s the simplest way I can put it. I’m not a fan of it whatsoever knowing that we’re going to see the Terrible Towels flying. It’s just not a message that I like, and I’m sure a lot of other guys don’t approve.”
Kicker Phil Dawson, another captain, was careful to keep his opinion about the flags to himself.
“I’m sorry,” Dawson said. “When your mom told you growing up if you don’t have anything good to say, it’s probably better not to say it, I think I’m going to follow those words.”
The Browns ruled out cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and special-teams ace Ray Ventrone (calf). Ward (knee/ankle), Richardson (chest/rib/finger), tight end Jordan Cameron (groin), wide receivers Josh Cooper (knee) and Josh Cribbs (back), defensive ends Juqua Parker (shin) and Frostee Rucker (shoulder/illness), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (calf/back) and guard Jarrod Shaw (illness) are probable.
The Steelers ruled out offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle). Safety Troy Polamalu (calf) returned to practice Friday but is doubtful. Wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) is questionable. Safety Will Allen (shoulder), offensive tackle Willie Colon (knee), defensive end Ziggy Hood (back), running back Isaac Redman (concussion) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) are probable.
Donate canned goods
The Browns will host their annual food drive Sunday to support the holiday efforts of the Cleveland Foodbank. Volunteers will be stationed at all gates of Cleveland Browns Stadium starting at 11 a.m. to collect donations. Fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable canned food items.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj